KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government has hinted at the possibility of suspending flights from the United States after the island recorded 12 cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) after reopening its borders to international flights.
The authorities said that of the 12 cases associated with the American Airlines (AA) flight 945, which brought 155 persons to the island on July 11, only one person was not a passenger on the flight.
Another AA flight, also from Miami, arrived last Saturday, and health officials said that four cases of COVID-19 were detected among the passengers.
On Sunday night, there were 21 active cases of the respiratory illness in the country, including two cases, the origins of which health officials were unsure about and were investigating.
“What has happened is this: in the United States of America and particularly in Florida and other places, there is a big flare up (of COVID-19) and we tightened the protocols on the second flight and we are tightening the protocols on the third flight.
“I want to say this: if persons who are coming home do not follow these protocols, apart from we going to Parliament and putting, as an alternative, the question of the ticketing, to have you fined, then and there, for breaking the quarantine, I want to say this: if persons who return choose not to pay attention to the quarantine, you may push the government to suspending the flights from the United States of America until things improve there,” Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said on a radio programme.
He said as of Saturday July 25th “the protocol is going to be strengthened so I want everybody to have real advanced notice.
“The Chief Medical officer has sent me already, she had discussed with me, and she is saying all the passengers must arrive with a negative COVID PCR test result,” Gonsalves said, adding “they must arrive with proof of reservation in an approved hotel by the Ministry of Health for five nights”.
He told listeners that passengers will be tested for COVID-19 before they are released from the Ministry of Health-approved hotel and that their quarantine will continue for nine to 16 days in an approved home or a government approved facility after the five nights in a hotel.
“The importance of strict compliance to all isolation and quarantine orders is paramount because it is only by complying with these orders and the use of masks in public places that the spread of COVD-19 can be controlled in St Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Gonsalves said that the Ministry of Health and his government are “privileging persons who are our citizens who want to come home, who have been out there for a long time”, adding that only a few non-nationals arrived on both the July 11 and 18 flights.
Gonsalves said that St. Vincent and the Grenadines would continue to allow flights from Canada and that the government only agreed to allow the flight from the United States next Saturday “because people have come here and they left their jobs with the expectation that the flight will go back and others will come and will go back.
“Well you have the 25th to make sure you have your booking because you can’t be sure that we will not suspend the flight for the first weekend in August, the first Saturday. Because persons have not been paying attention. I just want to make this point with crystal clarity…
“We are very much privileging our citizenship,” Gonsalves said, adding that someone had commented that he wants tourists to come to the island.
“The truth is this, the tourists are not coming yet. Small numbers, but we are doing this for our nationals because I am very concerned about you being out there but you can’t come but whatever the health people tell you and they give you a document as soon as you come out, you go on a boat and you go to Bequia, you take off your mask and you start to be drinking with everybody at the bar.
“When you do that, apart from the question of moral suasion becoming less and less as a tool, you still have to do it, but the law has to be enforced. And if in the United States, we are still having this increase, we will have to stop the planes coming from the United States for the time being…,” Gonsalves said, noting that Barbados had reduced its quota of four JetBlue flights to one a week.
“Because we have to look at the capacity of the epidemiological apparatus that you have, the health workers on the ground to deal with it and very much so, we have to be concerned about the health and safety of those persons who are in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said, adding that persons from the United States cannot travel to Canada.
“So that we have been dealing with this matter in a practical manner, in a practical way and so forth but I have always said that where we have to ramp up restrictions we will ramp them up. And if you want to get home and you can’t get home, you will have a problem because the flights are in danger of being suspended because of this unacceptable conduct.
“I was advised, I can’t believe this, that three or four persons, males, on the flight coming down on Saturday didn’t want to wear masks. Well, if you don’t want to wear masks, don’t come on the plane.”